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Fatal shooting of homeless man by LAPD puts department under scrutiny

A homeless man on Los Angeles’s Skid Row died Sunday after an LAPD police officer shot him. A graphic video surfaced on witness Anthony Blackburn’s Facebook page shortly after the fatal shooting.

The video shows a group of police officers surrounding the man — known as “Africa” — on the sidewalk. Africa is seen swinging his arms at the officers. One officer pins him to the ground, as three others appear to quiet him. Bystanders are heard shouting “Get off of him!” and “Drop the gun!” before five gunshots ring out.

Officers were initially responding to a robbery call. Witnesses told the Los Angeles Times that the officers pulled Africa out of his tent. At one point, a taser was used on him, but LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said it was “ineffective.”

According to LAPD, the gun was fired after a struggle occurred between Africa and one of the officers. In a press conference today, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Africa “forcibly grabbed” one of the officer’s holstered pistols. But the facts are muddied, calling into question whether the killing was justified.

In February, Gwen Ifill spoke with Cornell William Brooks of the NAACP and Richard Berry of the International Association of Chiefs of Police about how police can repair strained relations with communities, and curb the use of excessive force by law enforcement.

Witnesses who identified Africa said he’d been living on Skid Row for a few months. Prior to that, he spent time in a mental health facility.

A memorial service was held Sunday night for “the brother known as ‘Africa.’”

According to the LA Times, Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said he was “watching the video repeatedly trying to hear exactly what the officers said to the man.” Soboroff, LAPD, an independent inspector general and the district attorney’s office are investigating the shooting.